The Field of an Angel
By Tom Gabrielson
Photo courtesy of Marie Arturi Albert Einstein once wrote, “The difference between genius and stupidity is, genius has its limits.” Somehow it seems I was pushing those limits this present week. I knew this was going to be an adventurous week after being invited to go sailing on Sunday afternoon and planned to go skydiving on Tuesday evening. It would be my first time for both, and since I was about to turn fifty nine, I thought why not?
Since we moved
to the east end of Long Island in 1968, we owned a number of boats and always enjoyed fishing, waterskiing, and just being out on the great Peconic Bay. However, I always wanted to go sailing but never had the opportunity. That changed when our local building company worked on a project in Nassau Point in Cutchogue. Albert Einstein had also spent his summer in Nassau Point in 1939, and sailed on his fifteen foot boat called the “Tinef,” which is Yiddish for “junk.” Once the building project was completed, the homeowners, Deb and Shannon, invited my friend and me to go sailing with them on their Hobie 18 sail boat. It ended up being a wonderful ride and we all had a great time. How beautiful the east end is for all to enjoy.
Monday arrived, the beginning of a new work week for the locals, but vacation to the many people who get to enjoy the quaint little towns of “out east.” I knew the next day I planned to go skydiving with my nephew and nieces, but I started to get second thoughts. My niece, Sarah, had invited me to go skydiving with them. It was something I always wanted to do, but I always found an excuse not to go. In 1971 when working for a local builder in Southold, I came close to going with a co-worker. That never happened. Sarah called me, and she showed me a video of her previous jump. It did not look as bad as I thought, even though I would still have to jump out of the plane and free fall about a mile before opening the parachute. The night before, I did not sleep well. Anxiety and ambivalence kept me up most of the night. I was thinking of the many other things that I could be doing instead, right here on the east end with my feet on the ground. I could hike the nature trail at Elizabeth A. Morton’s wildlife preserve. Perhaps take a ride out to Montauk and see the lighthouse. Maybe even spend the day atOrientBeachState Park.
The next day I had no choice when Sarah booked the jump. Now I could not turn back, I could not say no. It was set forfive thirtyin the afternoon. After watching a video and signing several waivers it was time to go skydiving. My nephew Matt, his sister Melissa, and I were set for the first flight with three other jumpers. Sarah and her three cousins were set for the second jump. Before going up, I told Sarah that when I get back I would either give her a hug or never talk to her again for talking me into this venture.
On the way up it was sunny and you could see the beautiful north and south forks of easternLong Island. They say on a clear day you can see fromManhattanto Montauk. The plane climbed to about thirteen thousand feet and little did we know that a huge cloud was approaching from the northwest. Down on the ground the cloud was black and they saw lightning. Dust started blowing and the wind picked up to fifty miles per hour. One by one we jumped tandem being strapped to an instructor. When it was my turn, we walked to the edge of the plane, looked out, counted to three and jumped. We were free falling through the cloud and going close to one hundred and twenty miles per hour. It felt as if I was floating. Unknown to us, the crew down below called to the plane to abort the jump, but it was too late. Everyone was already out of the plane. They knew we were in trouble. Sarah, who is a very spiritual young woman, looked up and started to pray. Another person who was watching said it was surreal what was happening. Meanwhile, we continued our freefall. I always thought it would be a nice feeling to jump through a cloud, but never one of these magnitudes. This was a cumulonimbus cloud which is indicative of thunder storm conditions, characterized by its large, dense, and very tall towers. It was gray, and you could not see far in front of you. I could feel the pressure against my chest. My mouth was getting dry, and it was getting harder to breathe. I could only see about15 feet. The cloud did not seem to end. I could never imagine that clouds could be so tall. As we finally broke through the lone, deep cloud, the instructor deployed the parachute. I could not believe how quiet and peaceful it suddenly seemed; until, I realized that the situation was changing very quickly. Looking around I could see the other parachutists all being far from our drop zone. One was spinning around and around and later landed in a tree. Now, my instructor informed me that we were in trouble. We were far off course, and heading southeast at a fast pace. He said that he had no control and his voice was shaking. As we approached the ground I looked down and I saw water. I remember thinking that I did not want to land in there. Beyond the water was a field. At the edge of the field were electric lines bordered by the woods. We had to land in the middle of the two. The wind spun the parachute in a circle so fast it felt like we were in a mini tornado. At times the parachute was drifting us backwards. We were at the mercy of nature’s fury. Then something miraculous happened. The wind stopped, and it felt like an angel took us by the hand and placed us down lightly. It felt as if we stepped on to the ground. The amazing part was we ended up in that little field. I’ll never forget that moment. We both leaned back and laid there for a moment.